Sunday, March 20, 2022

Were They Worse - Luke 13

Were they worse?

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Luke 13: 1-9, Psalm 63, 1 Corinthians 10, and Psalm 109


Opening Prayer


This week’s lesson offers a question to Jesus about calamity. Do people who suffer destruction, war, or poverty somehow deserve this because of sin their lives?


When people ask this there maybe some general concern but it is playing a privileged fool. From the position of not impacted, I get to decide why someone had to go through this experience. Isn’t that just a little vain if you think about it? One can sense that there is judgment, and maybe internally, we are looking for vindication of our own brokenness and inadequacies as somehow not as bad. 


Why is it easy for some to point fingers at places suffering from destruction and say they deserved it? Would we say that about people who had tornados just a couple weeks ago or a derecho over half of Iowa? I think folks might be raked over the coals if we, here in this place, did that. I think we ought to do that as well.


Does distance or ethnicity somehow change that concern, that judgment potential?  Why even point fingers? That is merely avoiding compassion but why?. That is not making room for God to help us see our potential, especially in the face calamity.


Jesus turns the “answer” on its head and gives us this image of a man and gardener talking about a fig tree. What is happening here? What should we do with a plant that is not producing?  What are we to do with those that have not been contributing? What about our lives when we have not been contributing or have not been using the gifts we have?


God, the gardener, says to dig again and see what happens.People on the other hand want to say that is throwing good money after bad.


When will they learn, when will they change their ways? Well, you, (who sit so well on the porch), are you sure that fig tree isn’t you? If you think calamity is for someone else, tell that to the person who prays and goes to church regularly why a big tree is new kitchen decoration, why someone went to the ER to walk out without a spouse, or why dictators decided to bomb neighborhoods. Witness what is in our own lives and realize this is mutual experience. Remember, your humanity is not just self-preservation but to comfort and help those around us. 


This is challenge for us in our lives to look at what we produce (or don’t) or how we share God’s love in our world. How are we examples of God in our lives because our day is just around the corner.


This fellow was ready to call it done but God, the gardener, comes in to rescue. God is willing to give us another chance even when others think the opportunity or the effort is lost like throwing good money after bad. 


This reminds us that on our own journeys that God is there and does not leave us. When we are ready to give up, God is ready to give us chances. God is going to work the soil and tend it for us. God is going to work the Spirit for us, will we respond - will we bear fruit - God’s fruit?


When danger happens, when catastrophe happens, we can question the where and why’s, but we as Christians, are called to help, to share our abundance with those in need and to witness God - not just in our lives but those in our neighbors -> no matter how far away  -e.g. down the street, Polk County, Ukraine, Ethiopia or Afghanistan, or if they have the same beliefs (politically, religion, or nationality) or what they look like.


Maybe the question really isn’t whether we feel empathy or empty, because we will feel empathy (unless you are just cold and careless). Maybe the question is what do we do in our lives to bear the fruit and to be that fruit of God’s kingdom here. 


Beloved, let God work your soul and refresh you. Even when tragedy strikes, through God, you can find your purpose and bear God’s fruit in our world. Then, when the man and the gardener come the next year to question you, the fig tree and your reasons, you don’t have to wonder what they will do. 


Thanks Be to God.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Psalm 109 - Prayer for Vindication

Psalm 109


This is one is tricky for me because this expresses strong desires for vindication but this is not really a Jesus thing given what we read in the Gospels like Matthew 5:21-48.  This psalm reveals an honest human emotion, reaction and suffering under direct duress.


Entire discourses and treatises have been dedicated to subjects surrounding this.  Augustine, Luther, and many more have added their insight.


In this adaptation, find a prayerful desire to end the hostility and reminder that vengeance belongs to God as Paul writes in Romans 12. Why? We, as broken humans, have a bad tendency to perpetuate the wrongs inflicted when we actively seek vengeance (especially when violent).


Still people wonder, when people do violence to us, can we not be able to demand recompense for wrongs against us, can we not ask that people own their sin causing pain in our lives, and when a wrong is so egregious, can we not ask for a measure of impact upon that person or people?


Yes we can ask. Again, Jesus has something to say about this. Yes we can lift our raw emotion to God like in this psalm and have faith our plea will be heard. 

 

The issue for us might be, instead of seeking vengeance in response to personal injury, but ask why do we seek vengeance? Why do others inflict harm?  How can we prevent this? 


That does little justice for the person walking home at night who is surprise attacked.


Why do we suffer and why does it seem like “good people” suffer no matter how strong their faith is -even when they do everything that they are supposed to? How can peaceful people bear responsibility for wicked hostility of a madman / leader. 


As a martial artist, I learn to protect myself by diverting hostile energy. War is destructive to everyone involved, and people, like Sun Tzu, teach to avoid war at all costs for this reason. The best defense is not to be there when or where the strike happens.


Do I, as a Christian, have a right to self-defense or do I/we just take it on the chin? When a strike comes, we can learn to divert that away from you, but still remember where vengeance belongs - even when we feel justified or righteous in our response. What is the justification for self-defense because many don’t want to end up as a martyr?


What is vengeance but revenge for personal injury? In revenge, who sins - the injured or object of the revenge? Thus, the cycle perpetuates. These are significant theological discourses with many layers to consider, but the ultimate question might be how can we respond as a Christian to violence or physical injury from that.


Vengeance desires personal retribution for actual harm. The problem becomes where and when does that desire get satisfied - if ever? For slights against us, we could see this and give the vengeance to God. For when someone does harm to me, it may be comforting for me to seek refuge in Romans.


However, what do we do when we not only observe a wrong being pressed upon neighbors but actual violence? What happens when I am not home and someone robs my home, burns the house and kills my family?? Such violence has played out over the history of destructive and broken humanity.


What recourse do I have or do I need? I am generous, I give money and time to help people in need. I teach people the way of God as hope, love and peace. Vengeance asks that someone to pay for the crime.  Do I give all of this to the Lord?


The answer is there and not always easy to hear.


How do I personally resolve the anger, horror, and wild emotion for the violent hostility against me?  Maybe we want to forgive, but the wrong is so brutal and destructive – we are not asking how many times to Jesus should we forgive, we are asking the degree of a particular (or series) injury. We are asking Jesus in our agony “but this…”


I would point that you are talking to Jesus, who died a violent execution at the hands of deceit, manipulation and false accusations.

 

Even Jesus wept over friends and lashed out at folks who were robbing people of good money in the temple. Jesus had anger and cause to overturn tables.  Jesus did this as a rare outrage to an extreme injustice. Yet, Jesus preached countless times to make peace, not violence. Jesus prayed in agony and walked the painful, torturous journey to the cross.


Anger is an exception, and yes, we are allowed to be angry. Let God know your anger and your pain, for God will hear you. Our lives should not be defined by anger no matter how righteous we think we are. For anger, hate, or fear separate us from God and the liberation Jesus sought for us.


Jesus gave us the ultimate example of what to do in our agony - do not let anger ruin you or your path to salvation.


If you feel needs for vengeance (especially violent), we should ask why and for whose benefit are we seeking - e.g. vengeance for ourselves vs that for God. If we seek for God, we might want to make sure that we hear God correctly. If we seek a fight (especially responding in holy names) without actually listening to God, chances are that will not resolve our pain. If we seek to have a measured response equal to the hostility against us, we are reminded to ask for God’s guidance in that response and listen carefully to that guidance.


Lift up your distress, be heard, ask your petition and ask for recompense from God. Be humbled before God and let God’s will be done.


Psalm 109 - Prayer for Vindication and Vengeance

1 Do not be silent, O God of our praise.
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against us,
    speaking against us with deceit and lying tongues.
3 They beset us with words of hate,
    and attack us without cause.
4 In return for my love they instead accuse us,
    even while we make prayer for them.
5 So they reward us with evil for our good,
    and hatred for our love.


We are in pain and feel Your vengeance, 

but agony clouds our desire for Your peace.

Agony wishes that wicked hostile judgment placed upon us

Be placed upon the deceitful aggressors.

Agony of our hearts say that his guilt 

Be rewarded as sin in his own face.

For the suffering of Your beloved, 

we do not wish his days be long

without Your justice.

For suffering of our children, we lost empathy for his.

For senseless destruction of our lands and Your holy places, 

we do not envy the loss of his value in Your eyes.

For Your beloveds’ sake, 

May Your righteousness seize all that 

he unjustly claims.

For horrors that we witness around us,

May history not offer homage to his evil aggression upon Your people.


Since those wicked leaders offer no sincere empathy nor mercy for our peaceful ways,

Since he desires veneration of his evil instead of our worship of you.

We do not offer pity for his disgrace You give.

May Your sacred blessings be far from his wickedness.

For all the desolation cast upon us, as your beloved,

May Your holy condemnation be his reward 

and wrap him like clothes he cannot remove

since he has offended you, Oh Lord.


We have in our agony all these and more.

Yet we have faith in You Oh God

Let our vengeance be Yours - paid in Your marvelous ways, 

Those worthy of You Oh God.


21 But we know that you, O Lord - our Lord,
    act on our behalf for your name’s sake;
    because your steadfast love is good, please deliver us.
22 For we are small, poor and needy,
    and our hearts are pierced.
23 We are gone like shadows at evening;
    We are shaken off like a locust.
24 Our knees grow weak through fasting;
    our bodies have become gaunt.
25 We are objects of scorn to the wicked hostile leaders;
    when they see us, they shake their heads.

26 Help us, O Lord our God!
    Save us, your beloved of peace, according to your steadfast love.
27 Let our enemies know that this is your hand;
    you, O Lord, will save us.
28 Let them curse, but you will bless.
    Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
29 May the wicked deceitful accusers be clothed with dishonor;
    may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.
30 With our mouths, we give great thanks to the Lord;
    we praise You in the midst of the throng.
31 For You stand at the right hand of the needy, us your beloved,
    to save us from those aggressive vile attackers who would condemn us to death.

May God be with us all and May God save and restore Ukraine from the hostile ones.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

True self with true God - Luke 13

True self with God

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Psalm 27, Luke13:31-35 and Philippians 3:20-41


Opening Prayer


The farmhouse turkey. 


The “Lean-to” chicken coop.


The scripture reading shows Jesus describing Herod as a fox and God as a hen with brood under her wings. How curious it is that Jesus does this because Jesus terms earthly power as a predator and God as a protecting hen. 


Yet if you watch a hen (chicken, goose, turkey or otherwise) they are not afraid to raise feathers in the face of a threat. Just when we might wonder if the fox might win, the hen will tell you otherwise. 


If we look at the images closer we see that the predator will continue to hunt - seeking to kill. The hen, on the other hand, will always protect her chicks, providing warmth and guidance. Chickens are playful, friendly, and teach each other. 


Doesn’t that sound sort of like God? God is friendly, protects us and guide us. God does not keep us hungry but instead sustains us - calms our anxieties and hungers.


We know plenty of examples of human leadership like the fox.  We have a perfect example in Russia today where people are in positions for their own glory, power and hunger. These types of leaders, this type of power only seeks selfish gains regardless of the cost and people are always expendable. 


This is not the assurance of ourselves but revealing of fears and hungers. When everything and everyone is expendable, we lose sight of who our neighbors are, who God is and who we are - who I am. 


We as Christians have to be wary of these for those that promise fame, fortune, and power at the expense of others do not serve God or us but themselves. We must dig deeper and ask for something more than rhetoric or quick appetizers. We don’t need a pile of emptiness and lies when we need to quench our thirst for authentic truth and love. 


Thus, good leadership embodies that of God’s power - taking care of the people through protecting against predators, comforting us when we are cold and teaching us. Good leadership assures us even when things feel dire and listens not just to our praises and blessings but to our petitions, our confessions, our intercessions without judgment. 


Thus, we talk to God via prayer. Psalm 27 can help us find words for different types of prayer wrapped into one. 


This psalm encourages and proclaims confidence - a prayer amid a chaotic world and personal trials. There are folks with terminal illness and great catastrophes in their lives that find great strength and hope through this psalm. Here, you may find calm and assurance in the center of so much hectic emotion and anxiousness. 


In the moments when you feel overwhelmed or discouraged , you might reach into psalms like this because a measure of what you seek can be found here. In these, you may see yourself and offer all of you. You may find more of you and what you need.

One might read the whole psalm or meditate upon sections for a deeper, hopeful, and encouraging experience, (an authentic experience) and such an experience is what we seek. For in our sighs, concerns, and prayers, we connect to God and then breathe with God’s assurances comforting our hearts. Most of all you connect with your true self in those moments.


Why? When we (authentically) confess to God (and to each other), this power, this God, teaches us to do what: forgive and to be forgiveness. When you lament, let God hear you; let God be with you in your struggle. As the letter to Philippi reminds us, our humiliation,  our brokenness will be transformed in the face of God. 


When God shows power, witness this power is not by force, by gun or by sword, but power by grace and transformation. Whether we are happy, blessed, broken, or questioning, bring those to the mother hen, God. Be humble before the power that is God; then be healed in your true self. 


Be thankful in your prayers and give honest praise in your offering.Be thankful that your gifts do not just manifest themselves but are there because God has blessed you.


Be and then Find your true self in your honest petition. Request of God what you can be and will be knowing that God can and will answer you. 


When you intercede on behalf of someone, (it is not just please help them be better so I don’t feel irritated), make an honest plea for them on their journeys. Chances are, what they need, you need also.


Find your true self and what you need by offering your honest prayer for yourself and for others around you. That is authentically what God wants. 


Know then that you don’t have to worry about harsh worldly power, because God, our hen, lifts her wing for you to warm and protect you. Let God’s power reveal for you and with you.  Be transformed in your humble acceptance of that warmth and protection and discover what God has for you. Discover you.


Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Psalm 27 (adapted)

Psalm 27 (adapted)

This is a powerfully encouraging and confident psalm of trust as a prayer amid hostility, a chaotic world and personal trials. I know folks with terminal illness and great catastrophes in their lives that find great strength and hope through this psalm.  Prayers like this can help us find calm and assure us in the center of so much hectic emotion and anxiousness. May that be so for you.


I broke up the Psalm into "titled" sections and changed the perspective from singular, first-person to the broader "we" to encompass us collectively. One might read the whole psalm or meditate / ponder upon the sections for a deeper, hopeful, and encouraging experience, and such an experience is what we seek. For in our collective sighs, collective concerns, and collective prayers, we connect to God and breathe with God assurances comforting our hearts. 

 

Prayer of Faithful Amid Chaos

The Lord is our light, salvation, and strength—

    of whom shall we be afraid?

When the wicked and aggressors advance against us
    to devour and kill,
it is they, the hostile foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege us,
    our hearts will not fear;
though war break out against us,
    even then, We will be confident. Selah!

 

Supplication for God to Be Near

One thing we ask from the Lord,
    this only do we seek:
that we may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of our life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek God in your holy temple.

 

Belief in Assurance
For in the day of trouble
    God will keep us safe in the divine dwelling;
God will hide us in the shelter of the sacred tent
    and set us high upon a rock.

Then our heads will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at God’s sacred tent we will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    We will sing and make music to the Lord.

 

Prayer of the Oppressed

Hear our voice when we call, Lord;
    be merciful and answer us.

Our hearts says of you, “Seek God’s face!”
    Your face, Lord, we will seek.
Do not hide your face from us,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been our helper.
Do not reject or forsake us,
    God our Liberator!
10 Though many forsake us and if they do,
    the Lord will receive us.


Teach Us
11 Teach us your way, Lord;
    lead us forward on your path
    because of your mercy, your love and your peace.
12 Do not turn us over to the will of wicked leaders and adversaries,
    for false witnesses rise against us,
    spouting malicious accusations and violence.

 

Confidence in God’s Assurance

13 We remain confident of this:
    we will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and let your hearts be filled with courage
    and wait for the Lord.


Beloved, Let God be with you and assure you in your journeys. May God protect our neighbors in Ukraine and give them peace.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Take Every Test - Luke 4

 Take Every Test

Tony E Dillon Hansen

 

Sermon for Luke 4: 1-3, Psalm 91, Romans 10: 8-13

 

Opening Prayer.

 

There are at least three temptations: hunger, prideful power/greed and fear/loss of trust. 


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Consider the moment because Jesus was just baptized and walking into the wilderness full of this experience - full of the holy spirit. I wonder what Jesus was feeling like in that moment. Was there some celebration, some relief or perhaps beginnings of worry? What is to come?


Practice! And look here comes an opportunity. 


This sinister figure looms in our text today - sometimes called tempter, Satan, or devil. This being personifies everything ominous, manipulating, and deceitful. Qualities to avoid in our lives. I always wondered why a being though.


These things don’t just happen because a being (with bag full of gags) lurks around the corner. There are legitimate temptations in our lives. They don’t look vile, they don’t look menacing, and in some ways, they appear as wholesome, nice and comforting. They often put up facades to hide miserable intent. Sometimes, they even believe their intent to be justified and supporting our wants. Yet, there is more than meets the eye.

 

Look at these a moment

 

One is a temptation of hunger – physical, emotional or spiritual. Temptations appear everywhere in our lives and regardless of how good we feel.  For here Jesus is “full of the holy spirit.” This isn’t an “injection of courage.” Realize that even with God’s spirit guiding you, just when you think you should be celebrating new life, there will be trials. 


Fasting is common practice across many traditions to help one find and strengthen spiritual self. The idea is that if you can endure restraining oneself from the physical pleasures (e.g. food, thirsts, or lust), other calamities and tests won’t be difficult. For some, fasting helps focus upon your connection to the spirit better. (I am not entirely sure hunger helps, but for some, this is a sustainable practice.) Perhaps, in our Lent practice, if you do, may your practice inspire grace throughout the rest of our lives. 


Thus after 40 days of fasting, Jesus embodies the “tests” with true hunger and tiredness. You can almost hear the exasperation as well when he defies the devil and does so by reciting Deut. 8 that tells us to be humbled, and we do not live by bread alone. With God, we have what we need. 


Regardless if we fast, be aware that unabated appetite turns into overconsumption and gluttony. This quickly forgets boundaries, and when insatiable, it separates us from God. One more candy, drink, smoke, or thingamabob wont give us the fulfillment that God gives when we practice our faith in God to sustain. Especially, when we are hungry (spiritually, physically or emotionally), practice being fulfilled through our prayers to God. 


Further, instead of just consuming, Jesus says to share what we have, especially with the least of us.

 

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Jesus is again tired and hungry. They travel to the mountains, (the test, “all this could be yours.”) There is a bit of irony in this. Jesus could probably eat a buffet, but the devil shows a movie about power. Yet when we are tired, hungry or grieving, ridiculous ideas feel attractive. The devil supposedly offers “power” - if you worship me. Jesus responds with Deut 6:13, “Did you not hear what I said? You are not the answer.” 


As people who scheme do, they mix truth and false - a partial-truth is still fallacy. Example, my colleagues and I went to the state fair for team outing. A fellow was selling manual sweepers that appeared to work easy and well. Three of us buy, one was laughing at us. We took them home, and within couples days, 3 reported disasters and 1 was still laughing.


Here too, evil is a slick salesperson offering the temptations of ego, power and greed. If we just hear to what we want to believe and tone out the rest, we fail to see the reality. Even in the moment where we observed apparent working contraption, the fallacy was that did not work. If it looks too easy, chances are yes. If it appears to solve everything, chances are no it does not. 


Temptation shows us what we think we want, easy ways and perhaps falsely deserve. When we give in to ego and greed, it too grows and we begin worship of that temptation. We bask in the easy successes and hunger grows. We change to say not only do I want for me – but I want theirs too because they are not worthy.


What things have lured our worship away from God? It happens, but remember Deut 6 God has delivered you. When you fail - when the house of cards collapses, pick up the pieces, learn, and turn back to the love that is there for you. In your Lenten practice, add humility, forgiveness, sharing to your prayers; practice open hearts with God’s love

 

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We observe another perverted test. An exhausted (but spirit-filled), we’re brought to the temple - to jump. (Again where is the buffet??) This is a test of trust in God. Never-mind Jesus just invoked Deut 6 and clever sales people don’t take the first or second “no”.


A loss of trust implies a cloud of fear (fear of future, of failure, and of life), and Jesus provides this retort from Deut 6:16, “Look, you, stop already with these.” 


Look at this scene. Jesus can foresee being tried and sentenced - a path full of destruction, violence, and pain. What is Jesus to do - Give up?

 

This is why we practice. If at the sign of fear, we could lose trust and faith. Then we shy from what is necessary, or with our practice of faith, we could push back. It may feel daunting with the world around us having so much chaos, but in your practice of faith and prayer, find courage - to witness God’s strength in you. 

 

We know people aren't always the brightest and some full of malice so why should Jesus want to fulfill the passion. People, like me, are willing to compromise whenever we want to make things easier. 


This is a mission to save souls. There is no compromise with evil from Jesus in order to win our lives for us. Jesus opens doors for us to God, so step forward and accept Jesus’ welcome.


There is a difference from the other Gospels worth noting since we don’t always get parades to help us out of the wilderness. Luke reports, “the devil departed ...until an opportune time” equals “to be continued…” The temptations won’t end. 


Even when we feel our best, they are there. Sometimes they test our hunger, others -> pride and ego. Sometimes despair. The opportune time will always be near - raising questions.


It is journey that tests us to find freedom and God’s love in each step. Go ahead take the tests. It isn’t just in the flashy parts but the day-to-day grind. Our practice will help. So add your prayer for sustenance, open heart and wise courage.


Trust that God will be there because God knows. Grow your faith (not temptations) on this journey to freedom from temptations - freedom through God.


That is the faith Jesus embodies - so that we might also. Take every test, lean into them, don’t avoid them because we can’t. Have courage because we don’t do this alone; we have each other and we have God. 


With your practice of Lent, Let the spirit fill you before your tests.  You may fail here or there, but when you practice your faith, your prayer and your love, you will get back up with God and you grow beyond imagination.  And no devil will be able to take that away.

 

Thanks Be to God.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Psalm 10

 O Lord, do not hide yourself in times of trouble.


In arrogance aggressors persecute your beloved in Ukraine. 

For the wicked leaders boast of the desires of their egos, 

those greedy for gain curse and renounce you oh Lord. 


In the pride of their hostility, 

the wicked say, “God will do nothing”; 

they claim, “There is no God.” 

Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.


They sit in ambush in the villages; 

in hiding places they murder the innocent. 

The insolent stealthily watch for the helpless and hunt them like animals; 

They think in their heart, 

“God has forgotten, hidden thy face, and will never see their hostility.”


Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; 

do not forget your beloved, the oppressed of Ukraine. 

The aggressors renounce your peace, oh God, 

and scoff at our faith in you.


But you do see! 

Indeed you note trouble and grief, 

that you may take it into your perfect hands; 

and is why your faithful beloved commit themselves to you; 

because you have been the helper of the peaceful and gracious.

Put an end to the wicked foolishness and hostility towards us and our neighbors; 

remove that wickedness until you find none.


O Lord, we know you will hear the desire of the meek, the small, the poor, the faithful; 

you will strengthen their heart, 

you will incline your ear to do justice for the oppressed - 

save our neighbors in Ukraine and us from the aggression that has come, 

so that those wicked may strike terror no more.


Teach them and us all your peace and love. 

May peace and comfort be with our neighbors in Ukraine.

In your holy mercy, we pray. Amen.